Net-zero greenhouse gases by 2050? To my mind, that sounds like a very reasonable and important target and it seems like the government is actually taking action for once.
Most of us would probably agree that we should do whatever it takes to ensure our planet is a healthy and pleasant place to live. It’s kind of a no-brainer; we don’t really want our grandchildren to live on a dying planet, like some post-apocalyptic film where everyone wears breathing apparatus and hides from the sun (disclaimer: this is not exactly what it will be like… well, probably not).
As I watch the news of the government’s recent CO2 emissions target, I turn the volume up on my smart TV, pop my mobile back on charge and do lots of other tech-related things that use the seemingly invisible power we get from our magical plug sockets.
Unwillingness to change
Like everybody else, I want the world to change but I don’t want to change myself. I want the planet to be green and healthy and be a clean, pleasant environment for everyone… but I do quite like my 2.4 litre diesel engine and the convenience of all my power-hungry tech devices.
It’s not hard to notice how people have changed a lot in recent times, including how we have become less social, or at least less social in the real world. We seem happy with our eyes glued to screens, living in a virtual reality for 90 per cent of our waking life. An important question to pose is: could we ever give that up? Could we ever revert to a non-smartphone era? What if the planet depended on it? What if human nature depended on it?
We know there are cleaner, more eco-friendly ways of powering our tech addictions. And it’s essential we welcome these and accept there will be financial growing pains as well as inconvenience.
Homes are becoming more and more entrenched with connected technologies, security, heating, lighting and, of course, little vacuum-cleaning robots (which are essential). All these things are brilliant and very handy, but what happens if we have to revert back to non-tech living? Ask yourself: how much tech could I live without to save the planet? If the answer is “all of it”, then why aren’t you doing that?
Would it be so bad to write someone a letter and wait for a response? (the answer is yes, it would be rubbish), would it be so bad to cycle to work or use an electric car? (that sounds okay, I suppose). Would it be so bad to not have a smartphone at all? It sounds crazy to even contemplate life without these magical little things that control our lives, but it wasn’t so long ago we did just fine without them, and some would argue we enjoyed a better quality of life.
As a futurologist, I naturally consider the future rather often. It’s easiest to think of the future as being shiny, new and automated; it’s not so much fun to think of the future being less efficient for the sake of the environment or for the sake of society/our sanity.
The tech tipping point
Technology should be used to improve our lives but maybe there is a line or tipping point after which it becomes more harmful than not. Or perhaps there is no tipping point and we just need to push on over the tech horizon until we are so advanced that we somehow just work out the whole global warming thing.
The average person’s annual carbon footprint in the UK is nine tonnes of CO2. That’s about four average-sized elephants. Around a fifth of that comes from the energy we use at home (including charging and using all our lovely tech devices); the next time you leave a light on when you’re not in the room, just imagine those massive electric elephants smashing our planet to bits with their big iPhone-shaped feet.
It’s not all gloom and doom and a future without cool technology, though. Like most things in life, there is a balance to be found. To some extent, we’re lucky that at least we live in a country where the government accepts that there is a real climate-change problem and that we need to take drastic action before it’s too late, if it isn’t already too late. Cutting our CO2 emissions to net-zero by 2050 may seem hard and a bit of an effort, but in fact it’s our responsibility to do what we can to achieve this target. Technology use in our homes is a major factor in this.
Technology is a drug and society is unlikely to be able to go ‘cold turkey’ given how deeply the drug has taken hold. A gradual withdrawal from the addiction would allow us to readjust our priorities – hitting the reset button and thinking about what’s important to us and to our planet.
Software developers have a part to play in all this; the ‘gamification’ of many of the most popular apps and social media platforms is addicting our minds and removing us from real life. Sure, social networks can be fun, and it feels great when you receive likes and comments on a post, but if we start to value this disposable praise above real interactions and relationships then we are edging closer to losing the very things that make us human.
I do have faith that our government will do the right thing and push us into respecting our planet, despite that a lot of us will go kicking and screaming, holding onto our diesel engines as if they were our first-born child. Incremental changes to our lives such as electric cars and renewable power will help greatly, providing we also play our part as individuals.
Think about the tech you use, what you need to use and what long-term impact using that tech will have on you.
Zero-net use may be unrealistic but maybe we can reach net-zero.
Adam Rigg is a futurologist at Red Kite Community Housing.